Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Caring for the Collections: A Model Boat

I am currently working on upgrading the Museum's model displays on the ground floor (Court Gallery). I work closely with the Conservation Team, who check the condition of the objects, and carry out any necessary treatment before they go on display. I catalogue each object in detail, take photographs of each one, and write the new display labels.

During this process we discovered a beautifully made model of a rowing boat from Malta. The carved wooden hull has been neatly painted and the model includes painted oars, a painted metal lamp, a wooden bucket and baler, a metal anchor, and decorative silks drapes hung over the cabin area.

Detailed model of a Maltese rowing boat, PRM 1908.5.1 © Pitt Rivers Museum
Originally given to the Museum in 1908 the drapes are now faded and extremely fragile, the damage caused by past exposure to the UV rays in natural light . In addition the anchor, which the Conservators did a spot test on to identify the metal, is made of lead that is seriously corroded.

Close ups showing the faded and fragile silk drapes (left) and the corroded anchor (right) © Pitt Rivers Museum
As you can imagine staff in the Museum are extremely busy and Conservation would need to spend many hours to stabilise the silk on the boat before it could go on display.  Consequently we are going to house the rowing boat in a custom made storage box within the reserve collections.

Even if the decision is made not to include a model in the new display I still catalogue each one in detail. I add any information and photographs to the appropriate record on the object database. These form the basis for the online object database, which is regularly updated. This ensures you can access all the known information, plus see what the objects look like, on the Museum website.

Part of the cataloguing process involves clearly numbering each detachable part of the boat with the appropriate unique identification number. This enables each part to be described in detail and means even if they become separated - for whatever reason -  each part can be accurately identified and linked to the correct information.
The accession number written on
one of the oars © Pitt Rivers Museum

We number objects by applying a layer of reversible acrylic adhesive in solvent - often called paraloid - which looks like clear nail varnish. We then write the number using a rotring pen, before applying another layer of the acrylic adhesive.

As I have just catalogued and photographed the Maltese rowing boat this seemed an ideal opportunity to show you this particular model. Described as a daisa, in the information written down when this was given to the Museum, this appears to be a model of a traditional water taxi used to carry passengers and their baggage. To propel the boat a man stood facing forward pushing on the two oars, rather than sitting down to row.

One of the distinct features when you look at the boat is the height of the stem and the stern. The shape of these - as well as being decorative - provided a means of support for passengers to easily board and disembark.

Carved hull with high stem and stern © Pitt Rivers Museum
I hope you have enjoyed looking at and reading about this beautifully made model.

I will continue to keep you informed about the redisplay of the models with regular posts so keep following this blog.

Zena McGreevy
Senior Assistant Curator